Positional Analysis: Special Teams

Considering the Bears struggles on offense, field position takes on an even greater importance. While special teams keyed victories, at times even the simplest task became an adventure.

Starters: K Robbie Gould, P Brad Maynard, LS Pat Mannelly, KR Rashied Davis, PR Bernard Berrian. Backups: LS Desmond Clark, KR Jerry Azumah, PR Davis.

Gould won an open tryout with several veterans after Doug Brien opened the season by missing three of four field-goal attempts. Gould did not display great range, but he converted 19 of 20 tries from 40 yards or closer, not an easy task when half your games are in Soldier Field. His misses rarely looked from lack of power, but more a question of accuracy. He finished second in the NFL in rookie scoring and paced the Bears with 82 points.

Maynard was uncharacteristically erratic, landing just one-quarter of his boots inside the 20 with 11 touchbacks. At 32, he could be on the downside of career or it could have just been an off year. Next season will go a long way toward determining his future in Chicago. He has five years left on his current deal at base salaries of $775,000 (2006), 875,000 (2007), 925,000 (2008), 1,030,000 (2009) and 1,270,000 (2010).

Mannelly had the first bad snap of his eight-year career, and it came on a day with 45 mph winds. He and C Olin Kreutz are the longest tenured Bears on the roster. Like his counterpart, Mannelly is the best in the league at his craft.

Azumah returned kicks most of the year but has lost a step. He averaged 22.0 yards per attempt the past two seasons after going to the Pro Bowl as a kick returner in 2003. He's unlikely to return as an unrestricted free agent, but if he were to re-sign it would have to be at a reduced price with his primary duty being cornerback.

Davis, who excelled in that role in the Arena League, eventually replaced Azumah but was only marginally better.

After Bobby Wade was cut because he couldn't catch punts or hang on to them. Berrian solidified the position late in the season, but his 180-pound frame is not built for taking the hits that come with the position.

The Bears could go after someone to upgrade the return game in the draft. The team has been courting Daniael Manning, a defensive back\return specialist from division II Abeline Christian.

The Pittsburgh Steelers want to get a deal done with Antwaan Randle El before he reaches free agency next month, but there could be enough interest from other teams he will elect to test the open market. The Bears are said to have him high on their off-season shopping list. He could fill two needs, depth at wide receiver and an experienced punt returner.

With an offense that lacks playmakers, finding them elsewhere can have just as big of an impact. Working with a short field makes it much easier to score than having to consistently drive 80 yards for a touchdown.

Scout.com contributed to this report.


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